Isaac Asimov, that genial genius who began his writing career making science intelligible to the lay reader, has now established himself as something of an expert in a wide variety of different fields. His ten histories, which cover the beginnings of Western Civilization, could qualify him as an amateur historian, surely, and the fact that these books have been warmly received by reviewers and readers alike does, without doubt, make him a major writer of history for young people.
Isaac Asimov brings to his histories the same qualities he brings to every subject that interests him: a contagious enthusiasm, a keen intelligence that clarifies and synthesizes without oversimplifying, a respect for his readers, and a sensitivity to the human values implicit in his subject. And above all he never loses his unfailing good-humor which lends perspective as well as insuring his readers an enjoyable reading experience.
THE SHAPING OF NORTH AMERICA gives good attention to Europe’s age of exploration because of its later influence in the new world; then the author moves on to North America’s colonization. He traces the European rivalries and jealousies that persisted in the New World and points up the painful patterns of Indian-Colonial relations brought on by the credibly arrogant assumption that the Indians had no rights at all to the land they lived on.
Dr. Asimov’s talents have never been more evident as he ranges over the subject matter familiar to most American readers, but somehow having here a new excitement and freshness.
Asimov’s final four books on history written for Houghton-Mifflin deal with American history (meaning, of course, with typical US prejudice “United States” history). The first of these has to do with the period through the mid-eighteenth century when the American continents are discovered and colonized by West Europeans. It’s a good book, comparable to the earlier histories, and worth reading.
In particular, I find that this book helps fill a gap in my own education. The US history courses I took in school tended to follow the following outline for American history: First there were the Indians. Then Columbus landed, Jamestown was founded, the Pilgrim Fathers landed, and the American Revolution broke out. Everything that preceded 1770’s was glossed over and covered as quickly as possible. Some of the dramatic stories of our early history are stories I never heard until I read this book, which tends to make me enjoy rereading it all the more.